07/21/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 07/21/2021 08:27
The arrival of the much-anticipated Part Two of the National Food Strategy on 15 July 2021 was an exciting moment for those of us interested in the future of the UK's food system. Led by Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of Leon restaurants and the Sustainable Restaurant Association, this is the first national strategy outlining a way to 'fix' our country's 'broken' food system.
The report describes today's food system as both a 'miracle and a disaster', as society has defied Malthusian predictions of mass famine and we now produce more than enough calories to feed the world's biggest and growing population. However, in doing so, we have put the health of our planet, and ourselves, in a precarious position.
Dimbleby's report looks at the key problems of our food system - the way in which it currently exacerbates the climate, nature and health crises - and sets out 16 recommendations as to how the Government could instigate change in order to repair it.
The report spans 289 pages, but rather than leaving you to digest it from cover to cover, I have picked out the seven recommendations of relevance to us all.
1. No meat tax but a 30 per cent reduction in meat eating
The Strategy suggests a 30 per cent reduction in UK meat consumption in order to reduce the amount of methane produced by livestock farming. 85 per cent of UK farmland is used to rear and feed animals, yet meat, dairy and eggs provide 32 per cent of the calories we eat. There is awareness of the benefits of extensive pasture-fed grazing systems, but with lower yields they remain relevant to a national diet that contains less meat.
Reducing meat-based emissions is seen as critical to the transition to net zero and also in 'freeing up' land to create more carbon sinks. However, the concept of a meat tax was heavily rejected by members of the public, therefore Mr Dimbleby proposes the development of cheaper alternative proteins to incentivise a 'Protein Transition'.
2. The introduction of a sugar and salt tax
One of the key aims of the strategy is to break the 'junk food cycle' - humans' predilection for processed, high sugar, high salt, calorie dense foods. Mr Dimbleby believes the over-consumption of processed food cannot be combatted by education and willpower alone and so has recommended the introduction of a £3 per kg reformation tax on sugar and a £6 per kg reformation tax on salt sold for use in processed food, restaurants or catering businesses.
3. The introduction of the Three Compartent Model
The report focuses on the fact that rural land is facing many different pressures - the need to sequester carbon, restore nature and produce food - describing the future land use change required across the UK as a feat of 'acrobatics'.
In order to address this challenge, a compromise Three Compartment Model is proposed. Rather than backing the land sharing or the land sparing argument, the Three Compartment Model is about creating a mosaic of three different types of landscape - high yielding farmland (for food production), low yielding farmland (farmed regeneratively) and semi-natural land (managed for nature).
This model argues that the least productive 20 per cent of the UK's land should be used for nature restoration and carbon sequestration, and that in order to enable that, 5-8 per cent of our current total farmland would need to be freed from production entirely.
4. A new Rural Land Use Map and Framework
The Strategy recommends the creation of a new Rural Land Use Map and Framework to set out which areas of land would be best suited to the different functions of the Three Compartment Model.
5. Agricultural payment budget maintained until 2029
The report asks that the Government commits the current agricultural budget past 2024 to enable farmers to survive the transition to sustainable farming, for which they will need more time and guaranteed support. Otherwise, Mr Dimbleby fears farmers will farm more intensively to make up for lost revenue, or give up due to insolvency.
6. Food company reporting
It is proposed that there should be a new statutory duty for all food companies with more than 250 employees to publish an annual report on metrics around healthy and unhealthy food sales (for example sales of food and drink high in fat, sugar or salt, sale of protein by type and food waste).
7. Prescribing fruit and vegetables
The Strategy proposes a Community Eatwell programme, which is a preventative way to combat those on poor diets. GPs would be able to prescribe fruit and vegetables along with food related education and social support, to patients suffering the effects of poor diet or food insecurity.